So, after I told you all about the strange experience I had in my little cemetery, a few of you wanted to know how my Halloween party went. Better than the last one, thank you very much.
Don’t worry, I’m joking. I am going to tell you what happened, but before I do, I need to tell you more about my year in between the last two Halloweens. Otherwise, it just wouldn’t make any sense. Hopefully you’ll find it as interesting as I did, and I’ll spread it across a few chapters to make it easier to digest, but I promise you this story does have a resolution and we will get to it.
As you already know, the night the man died I was stuck inside a ring of jack-o-lanterns, surrounded by formless spirits he called wisps. They couldn’t pass over the circle he’d made, but they seemed to be aware of my presence. After they had devoured the man, they started orbiting around me, forming a pillar of cold blue flames that spiralled up into the night sky until I couldn’t tell them apart from the stars.
If I hadn’t just watched them kill my friend, it would have been beautiful.
Nothing caught in their ghostly light made a shadow, and yet there were shadows; shadows of things that weren’t there, things that didn’t or couldn’t exist in the natural world. Even though I was hysterical, I was cognizant enough to think that the shadows were of things on the other side of The Veil, where the man said the wisps were from, and that the wisps were still not fully in our world and so their light was obstructed from the other side. At the time, I didn’t know if the shadows were just horrifically distorted, or if they were accurate representations of horrifically distorted creatures.
Since there was nothing I could do to fend them off anyway, I just closed my eyes and tried to wait for it to be over. That’s when I realized that, mixed in with the howling of the wind, was an uncanny choir of ethereal voices. It was faint, and if there were any words they weren’t English, but I could tell that they weren’t coming from the wisps but from across The Veil. I almost had a heart attack then, fighting my body’s nearly overwhelming fight or flight response, knowing that staying put was my only chance for survival.
As I listened to the voices, I came to realize that they weren't directed at me. If the things on the other side of The Veil knew I was there, they didn't care. Their music was in celebration, a Halloween celebration that dwarfed mine by a thousand orders of magnitude. A vague sort of image started to form in my mind, of a grand festival dedicated to the most sacred night of the year. In my horror, I wondered what could possibly give these ghastly beings cause for such jubilation. To my dismay, something on their side chose to answer me, in a nigh inaudible whisper that my panicked mind just barely managed to parse meaning from.
“All Hallows’ Eve marks the return of our Queen; Persephone.”
Around midnight, the wisps and voices disappeared, and the world seemed normal again, if hopelessly dark and silent. With nothing now to light my way but the candles of the jack-o-lanterns, I dashed to my car and sped out of the cemetery, letting all the party supplies I had placed on the hood fly off where they would. It was pitch black that night, and I was in no state to be driving, let alone as fast as I was, but I somehow made it home in one piece. I locked myself in my apartment, took a lorazepam, and without getting undressed I crawled into bed with my cat and cried myself to sleep.
I took more of my lorazepam than I should have over the next week, but I had no idea how else to cope with my experience. Not only had I watched someone's violent death and been put in mortal danger myself, but I had also come into contact with some kind of spirit world, possibly the Underworld of Greek Mythology. I honestly think the only reason I didn’t have any suicide ideation was because that would have just taken me straight to what I was running from. It had been psychologically and existentially traumatic, and I didn’t think I could tell anyone about it. No one would believe me, and if someone started snooping around the graveyard I might be implicated in the man’s death.
And, on top of that, I also mourned the loss of the cemetery. I loved that cemetery; it was perfect, but I told myself that it was dangerous and that I could never go back. But almost immediately, a contradictory thought emerged that just grew louder and louder and would not be silenced.
It was magic; I had to go back.
And so, I did. I thought it was stupid. I thought it was crazy. I thought it was infinitely stupider and crazier than when I had been going there when there was a potentially crazy homeless squatter, but goddammit I love that cemetery.
It was a week or so after Halloween. I left at dawn so that I would have as much daylight as possible, though at the time I wasn’t even sure of what exactly I meant to do. I parked outside the cemetery, instead of inside like I usually do, because that somehow made it easier for me. I stood right in front of the gates for nearly ten minutes, I think, just trying to muster up the courage to walk back in. I stared inwards, longingly, thinking about how beautiful it was in the morning light, those titanic trees swaying and creaking softly in the wind.
The man had said that the wisps only came on Halloween, when The Veil was weakest, and I had no reason not to believe him. I had been in there over half a dozen times before that night, and he had been living there for at least a month. Eventually, my yearning and rationalizations overpowered my fear, and I stepped through the arch.
The second I did so, I was acutely aware of a sense of sanctity and serenity, of being not quite of this world. All cemeteries have that, to some extent, but this one had it in abundance and I had never consciously realized that before, though I think I must have picked up on it at some level. I also picked up on what I then realized was The Veil, the barrier between our world and others. It was noticeably weaker in the cemetery, and walking into it as deliberately as I had made that undeniably apparent. Once I knew what I was feeling, I was immediately assured that The Veil was much stronger than it had been on Halloween.
The cemetery, my cemetery, was safe.
Tears of relief flowed down my cheeks. Laughing, I dropped to the ground and made a snow angel in the leaves, near delirious with joy at my return to my sepulchral sanctum.
I know. I’m weird.
Once my mood had stabilized a bit I took note of the mess I had left, and went to work cleaning it up. The sandwiches and opened chips had been plundered by crows, but there were numerous candy bars and cooler cans still scattered about. I also found my Bluetooth speaker, which had survived its week exposed to the elements surprisingly well, and then – the keyring.
The keys to the mausoleum, that the man had thrown to me as his final action, and gifted to me with his dying breath. I was suddenly ashamed to have left them behind, to have forgotten them, to have just stumbled upon them instead of searching them out on purpose. I suppose I was lucky the crows hadn’t stolen them as well. I slowly bent down, and gingerly picked them up.
The only time the man had even shown me any hostility was when I tried to force my way into the mausoleum, and he had ultimately decided to bequeath it to me than to let it be forgotten. What was in there that had mattered so much to him?
I approached the mausoleum, appraising it in as much detail as I could. It was solid marble, except for a copper grate window near the top on either side, slightly too high for me to see into. I thought about maybe trying to find something to stand on, just to get an idea what was in there before opening it, but realized the small holes and limited light likely wouldn’t offer much of a view. I decided it was best just to open the door and see what was inside. Above the doorway, there was the worn-down carving of a king and queen of some kind, but other than that it was barren of embellishment. I unlocked and opened the iron gate first, fully revealing the copper-plated door on the other side. It was green as the Statue of Liberty, but still lacked any identifying features or adornments. I placed my ear up against it,listening for any signs of activity from within. I knocked, and listened, and still there was nothing.
“Hello!” I shouted. “Is there anyone in there?”
It’s not that I didn’t trust the man, but I couldn’t shake the foreboding feeling that by opening the mausoleum I would be unleashing some sort of horrible, ancient evil. I didn’t hear anything inside move though, so I decided it was safe to progress. I placed the key into the door, turned it, and then slowly pulled the door back, ready to slam it shut again if need be.
As the sunlight illuminated the inside of the mausoleum, I was relieved to find it devoid of any inhabitants, spirit or otherwise. My attention was instead stolen by a large portrait hung on the far wall. It depicted a cavernous, subterranean realm of glittering limestone, misty rivers, and brilliant blue auroras. There were some of the wisps I had seen on Halloween, but also more humanoid forms made of the same glowing substance, shambling along the crystalline ground. In the foreground were a king and queen on ebony thrones; pale-skinned, dark-robed, and white-haired, with glowing blue irises the same shade as the wisps. The three-headed dog resting at their feet left no doubt that they were intended to be Hades and Persephone.
Persephone noticeably held an open pomegranate in her right hand, and with her left, she glibly placed a seed into her smugly smiling lips. I took that as an indication that in this depiction, Persephone was the consensual Queen of the Underworld.
I inspected and admired the painting for a few minutes, but my knowledge of fine art is limited so I couldn’t estimate how old it was. It looked like it would bring in some decent money at auction though, and – as beautiful as it was - I briefly wondered why the man had never sold it. I decided then to search through the rest of the mausoleum for answers.
There was a sealed tomb in the center, with no way for me to find out who or what was inside short of taking a sledgehammer to it. It had a purple velvet runner draped over it, with a padded wooden chair to its side, like someone had been using it as a table. There were a dozen other casket niches built into the east and west walls, two wide by three high, but all they held were candles. I knew that some mausoleums only held bodies during the winter so that they could be buried when the ground thawed, but if that’s what this building was for then why was there a sealed tomb in the middle?
The question that bugged me the most though was if this was the man’s family mausoleum, then why had his ancestor been buried outside instead of in here?
The last thing of note was a small bookcase beneath the portrait. There were three shelves and a few dozen books, all of which looked at least a couple hundred years old. On top of the bookcase was a heap of much more modern documents bound with an elastic band, and a small personal safe. I tried one of the remaining keys on the safe, and it worked. Inside was a large stack of cash, jewelry, and commemorative coins, which I half-heartedly noted were now mine.
I hadn’t come back there to look for money though. I wanted to know more about what I had seen. I took the stack of documents and sat down by the tomb to read them, assuming they would contain the most recent information. I was frustrated at first since none of the documents had any names or dates. The wisps – little identity thieves that they were - had already picked them clean. I was, however, able to piece together enough to confirm what the man had told me about his family. They had at one point been old-money, but a series of ever-worsening misfortunes over several generations had nearly wiped them and their wealth out. After what looked to be the most recent death, presumably the man’s father, he had sold off any assets he had left, paid off his debts, and took what was left to back to the cemetery. There was a psychiatrist’s note, mentioning that he had become increasingly paranoid and showed signs of persecutory delusions, that he believed he was being punished by angry spirits for the betrayal of his family. He said that he planned to seek sanctuary on hallowed ground, where he would be safe until he had a chance to set things right with them.
I knew he wasn’t crazy. I had seen the wisps and heard the music of the Underworld. I felt truly sorry for him then, for him to have suffered through tragedy and loss his entire life, knowing that he would be next, and that the best he could hope for was to give himself to them on his own terms. I wished that he was at peace, but from what I had seen so far, I had no assurances of that. I thought about how horrible my newfound gnosis was; to know that there was an afterlife but for that to offer no comfort, and even inspire greater dread than the prospect of oblivion, for the first time in my life to fear Hell.
Setting the documents aside, I turned to the bookshelf, in the hopes that it would be able to offer me some kind of understanding about what I was dealing with. It was then that I noticed that the very first book had a small sticky note attached to its spine.
‘Miss – Start Here’
I guess the man’s decision to leave me the mausoleum wasn’t as last minute as it seemed. I picked up the book and saw that it was a journal of some kind. I opened it, and inserted at the front was a loose-leaf table of contents, written in the same hand as the sticky note. Starting with the man’s recommendations, I soon realized that the journal had been written by the same ancestor who had made a deal with the Elder Things in the first place.
They described themselves as having been born with a Second Sight, or clairvoyance, which – among other things – made them aware of spirits. They used this clairvoyance to bootstrap themselves to considerable wealth and social standing, which they then used to seek other gifted individuals and sources of occult knowledge, which is where their collection of arcane literature had come from. They developed what modern scientists and philosophers would call a panpsychic theory of consciousness, that consciousness was a fundamental constituent of reality like mass or charge, and just like those constants, consciousness did have a direct effect on reality, however minuscule. They came to the conclusion that psychic abilities where the result of being able to focus, amplify, and control these effects. For example, the particles in anything that’s not absolute zero are moving, it’s just that their movement is random and on the whole, they cancel each other. Telekinesis would be collapsing the wave function of an object so that all the particles move in the same direction all at once.
But that’s my take on it. They obviously didn’t know anything about quantum physics.
They also believed that consciousness became more complex within the bodies of living things, especially the nervous systems of intelligent animals. At some threshold, the organization created by these beings becomes self-sustaining, and an individual’s consciousness survives the death of its original substrate.
They were certain of this not only because they had seen spirits, but because they had eventually developed astral projection, the ability to leave their own body. This led them to the discovery that there were, in fact, other planes of existence besides our own, and that consciousness was not bound to any one of them. It was during these out of body experiences that they discovered a race of beings they called the Elder Kin, which they thought older peoples had viewed as Fey or Gods.
I think it’s interesting to note that the man had referred to them as Elder Things. It’s possible he just liked Lovecraft, but I’m guessing it’s because his experience with them had left him reluctant to think of them as kin.
The ancestor, not content with their already considerable gifts and wealth, wanted to know what the Elder Kin could do for them. I’m going to quote the journal directly here.
“I have learned that, if seeking a boon from the Rulers of Underworld, it is best to do so between the dates of Samhain and Beltane, when the Queen is at Court. Just as the Greek Myths have said, the Maiden spends half the year in the Summerland with the Earth Mother. When Hades rules alone, he is not inclined towards generosity. Unlike his lecherous brothers, what warmth there is in Hades’ heart is for his queen alone, and when she is with her mother, he becomes cold and stern, allowing himself to feel nothing, lest he feel the pain of her absence.
“I have also learned not to pity Persephone. The Shades of the Underworld tell a different story than the one I have read. They say that, wearying of her eternal maidenhood and with ambitions that could never be realized in her mother’s shadow, it was Persephone that seduced Hades. Whereas Hades rules only because he drew the short straw with his brothers, Persephone believes it is better to rule in Hell than to serve in Heaven, and relishes her position as the Queen of the Underworld.
“It is to her then, that I must make my case. If I can appeal to her sense of regal magnanimity, she may grant it, and Hades will defer to her judgement.”
After that, it reads like a fairly typical Faustian bargain, with the man’s ancestor selling their eternal soul for Earthly prosperity, the only difference being that Persephone demanded their entire bloodline as the price – since the ancestor was asking that their gifts pass on without fail to their descendants. I was angry when I read that they accepted this bargain, that they sold not only their own soul but that of every child, grandchild, and great-grandchild they would spawn. Because of their myopic selfishness, my friend wasn't only dead but condemned to what sounded like an abysmal afterlife for all eternity.
I felt so helpless then, that there was nothing that I as a mere mortal could do to challenge the will of ancient gods. But then, I had a sudden epiphany; I was clairvoyant. Maybe I had always been and just never realized it, maybe my time in the cemetery or my exposure to the wisps had changed me, I didn’t know and it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that I could sense The Veil and spirits, just like the man’s ancestor could. I glanced over at the bookshelf, and realized that all the knowledge the ancestor had used to hone their skills and grow their power was right in front of me.
By then it was around five o’clock. The sun was getting low, and I realized I hadn’t consumed anything other than a bottle of water for about ten hours. I set everything back as I found it, locked up the mausoleum, and headed back to my car. I told myself I needed food and sleep and time to process all that I had learned before committing to anything, but I knew my heart was already set.
Just the day before I wasn’t sure if I would ever visit my cemetery again, and now I was determined to follow through on my plan to move out there permanently to be closer to the spirits and my horde of arcane knowledge.
I was going to become a Witch, and maybe, just maybe, become powerful enough to right something that had gone so terribly wrong.
Written by The Vesper's Bell